I was recently introduced to a friend of a friend who went backpacking around South East Asia last year. When I spoke to her, I felt a familiar feeling of shame creeping into me, the same one that always appeared whenever I spoke to travellers like her.
She, after a few weeks in my side of the world, has visited more places than I have the twenty six years I was living in the region.
Usually, a few minutes into the conversation, the name Cambodia would come up and I would have to reluctantly admit that I haven’t stepped on that country’s soil even once.
“I have been to Myanmar though,” I normally added in a bid to present myself as a more appreciative South East Asian.
I attribute this shameful phenomenon to what I call proximity ungratefulness. When a place is so close to where you live, you will naturally find it less exciting and will not go out of your way to visit.
I am thus careful of not letting the same thing happen to me here in London. I try to appreciate things around me, even stuff that is within walking distance from my flat.
One of my most recent finds was the Primrose Hill Market.
Primrose Hill is world-famous, and I have been there countless times. It has a beautiful unobstructed view of London and is equally charming during the day and night.
But today I’m not here to talk about the Hill. I’m here for something that happens at the foot of the hill every Saturday, unbeknownst to many: the Primrose Hill Market.
At the start of this year I ambitiously declared that I have found a magical way to slow down the time.
Yet 2017 has simply been ramming itself like a charging bull on steroid, and I’m at loss once again on how to make the time stop. With a blink of an eye, it is already March. The weather got a lot warmer, the daylight stayed for a couple of minutes longer each day, and flowers start to blossom; spring is just around the corner.
It is strange to think that just a couple of weeks ago I was trying to ease back into the chilly weather in London, having spent December and January back home in the tropics. And on one of the coldest days of February, we visited the Hackney City Farm.
Being surrounded by friends who grew up close to the nature, I have often behaved like an ignorant city girl in comparison. I remember asking someone, to both his bemusement and amusement, whether the flowers on the flowerbed we walked past were real (they clearly were).
Don’t get me wrong; I love the nature. I really do (except for those crawling insects that come with the nature in the tropics, and maybe snakes. And a couple more weird looking animals). And I have a weakness for cows – I think they are one of the cutest creatures alive. I am just never exposed to them very much.
So imagine my excitement when my friend told me about Hackney City Farm, which was set up for people like me: so I don’t have to drive (not that I can) for hours to see cows and horses and donkeys, and I get to immerse myself in the earthy smell of manure right at the heart of the city.
We agreed to meet right around lunch time so our first stop was brunch at Cafe Frizzante, which was located inside the complex. It being located inside the farm added a nice touch to the location.
It sounds barbaric now that I think about it, but the first animals that we encountered at the farm were this.
When a Londoner friend once told me that he would avoid Oxford Street at all cost, I remember looking at him slightly perplexed.
I was a tourist then, and while I wouldn’t describe Oxford Street as my favourite place in London, I didn’t detest it. After all, the area is practically a one-stop shop/street of every brand imaginable. Whenever I travelled to London, I could delay all my shopping until the last minute (as I do with everything else in life) and just head there to buy everything that I don’t need and shop for souvenirs for friends.
But now that I have lived in the city for two months, I began to understand why Londoners have such negative sentiments towards Oxford Street. The place is always overcrowded, big brands seem to be haphazardly put next to each other and in between them tacky cafes try to rip you off with their substandard food – a tourist trap in short, which is why you can hardly find a single local person shopping there.
Perhaps it is some kind of a rite of passage for living in London, but I find myself disliking Oxford Street more with every visit (plus it always rained whenever I was there).
But in the midst of this chaos, there is a gem hidden just 5-minute walk away from the main street. At Manchester Square stood the Hertford House, a beautiful mansion which houses the national museum for the Wallace Collection, an art collection by the Wallace family.
The art collectors of the Wallace family consist of four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. I don’t mean this to be rude, but after visiting the museum, I concluded that art collectors are practically hoarders with a lot of money.
(I hoard things too, but I don’t have that much money. You should have seen the thrash that I accumulated when I was moving house.)
These five guys, for example, have accumulated a whole mansion of art, paintings, sculpture, china, armoury, arms and everything else you can think of that can be classified as art work. It was only when Richard Wallace had the sense to realise that their family’s collection could be a museum that he decided to work on leaving the collections to the Nation. The administrative process was so long that after he died, his widow Lady Wallace had to finish off the job and eventually made ‘the single biggest bequest of art treasures to a Nation.’
My friend and I visited the place spontaneously on a rainy Sunday afternoon, and it was quiet, a stark contrast to the bustle and elbowing at Oxford Street. It was as if I was magically transported to a different era of civilisation, to the time when women’s fashion was about covering your body with as many layers as possible and there were literal knights in shining armour.
Anyone who has travelled with me knows that I have extremely low standard for accommodation. My logic is that since I will spend most part of the day travelling, I just need a bed to sleep and a clean bathroom to shower. I will normally opt for a hostel or a very cheap hotel, and so far both have worked fine with me. Rarely has an accommodation given me a bad impression that I do not wish to set my foot there again. In fact, I would recommend most of them to friends travelling.
Up until two weeks ago, I only had two places that I would advise anyone to avoid at all costs. First was the apartment that I stayed in Hong Kong. It was actually clean enough considering it looked very old, but for some reason it gave me the creep. As we were sitting down in the living room chatting away at night, we suddenly heard a surge of water bursting from the pipe in one of the bathrooms. We were understandably surprised and in a desperate attempt to push away any thoughts of ghosts from my mind, I went to check the bathroom and somehow came up with a scientific explanation to calm myself down that perhaps it was because the water in the heating system overflowed. As I’m writing this, I had no idea how I managed to talk to myself and my friends into believing that. As if to prove me wrong straightaway, my friend found a few sheets of test papers on top of a shoe rack and the name of the student was ‘Demon’. Now I know that Hong Kong people have an interesting way of naming themselves (Apple, Orange, Kitty, Ice, Star, Bambi, etc), but when a Demon appeared together with bursting water pipe, it was enough to scare all of us that we had to watch funny Bollywood videos to calm ourselves down.
Second was a hotel in Copenhagen that I stayed in summer 2013. I have never been so sure that poltergeists exist until then. I distinctly remembered putting my earrings on the table only to find the next morning that they were gone. After turning the room upside down, my dad found each side of the earrings at different corners of the room. What was even creepier was that they were not the only items that had moved overnight. I was charging my camera battery and in the morning the battery was no longer in the charger. Instead, we found the battery separated from the charger below our blanket. Either one of my family members had a case of violent sleepwalking that none of us knew about or my memory was certainly failing me or…
Anyway, the point is so far, only these supposedly supernatural encounters have created an impression so deep and deterring that I swear I will never go back again. Montigo Resorts have somehow found a loophole in this theory and gave me the next scariest experience than demons and poltergeists: cockroaches.
Yes, you read that right, cockroachES. With ES. Plural. Four to be exact. And I only stayed there for 2 nights. For a place that we paid quite a considerable amount for (even with the 1-for-1 voucher that my friend had, it was still quite a pinch), I was expecting at least a basic level of hygiene and that guests can be pretty much cockroach-free. But no, our first encounter of a huge cockroach was during our late-night dinner right on the first night and my friend saw something fly across the room. We (I) tried to ignore it and pretend that it COULDN’T have been a cockroach – what were the odds?
But as we were finishing our dinner, one of my friends exclaimed, “OMG, I see it now. And it really is a cockroach.”
Very understandably, I screamed and jumped up the couch, barely being able to stand because my knees had turned jelly.
We all stood in suspense until the cockroach crawled out of the villa. Only then did we dare to head back to our room, only to find another one was waiting inside our bathroom. And the next day, I saw another one at a different toilet. As an added bonus, we were also visited by a hairy giant spider. I felt I was right back in Nepal whereby everyday was a battle with a new species of crawling and flying creatures.
If not for the extremely comfortable pillows in the villa and my energy completely drained out from the shock of seeing cockroaches, I would probably have been insomniac over those two nights.
So here is the deal: I did not go to Bali just to eat, as this post and this post seem to have suggested.
Instead, I was there to attend a wedding, a very beautiful one if I may add.
It may not have started perfectly. It rained heavily and the venue for the vows had to be moved from a beautiful spot by the beach to a sheltered open hut. (And I arrived extremely late that I missed the saying of the vows, but the bride and groom do not have to know this. For a valid reason though since my hairdresser was an hour late!). But as the afternoon and the night progressed, it just got better.
After the ceremony, there were cocktails and canapes, which were amazing. I did not even know what cocktails I had and did not bother asking, but they were really good and the appetizers tasty. Not much good picture from the first part and this was the best one that I got.
After that came my favourite part: the wedding reception. It was set in a beautiful tent with a row of 6 tables (I think), each table decorated with beautiful flower arrangement. The whole setup together with the fairy lights surrounding it created a very dreamy atmosphere.
No visit to Jogjakarta is ever complete without paying homage to the world-renowned Borobudur Temple. Situated in Magelang, about two-hour car ride away from Jogjakarta city, Borobudur Temple is worth the journey – it is after all the biggest Buddhist temple in the world and at one point in time was one of the seven wonders of the world.
We made a grave mistake of visiting the temple not only in the weekend but also on the eve of an Indonesian public holiday. Which was definitely not the wisest thing to do since Borobudur is one of the cheap destinations for pretty much everyone living in Java. Also, because we are not the earliest risers in the world, we only got there at around 11 AM. Considering some dedicated photographers would have already been ready with their tripod set up at about 5 AM, we definitely deserved the huge line forming at the ticket counter, not to mention the baking hot sun.
At least among the things we did wrong, we got a couple of things right. Like the fact that one of my friends is non Indonesian and could get her ticket at the Borobudur International Visitors Centre. Check out the queue for that.
She did have to pay for the price for that, being a foreigner and all. Her entry ticket was USD 20 while ours was less than USD 3. Reminded me of my time in Taj Mahal when I had to pay a much higher ticket price as a foreign tourist (750 Rupee or USD 12) while my Indian friend paid close to nothing (20 Rupee or USD 30 cents). The best part of this arrangement was that we had the spillover effect from her being a foreign tourist and a very kind guy in the counter helped us to get the local tickets through the backdoor and did not even want to receive any tip! Truly hospitality at its best.